Sustainable Technologies and Resource Usage

Sustainable technology development seeks technical solutions to improve people's living conditions in the sense of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without negative ecological or social consequences. On the other hand, technical solutions must be designed in such a way that they still function and are used even under changing ecological and social boundary conditions. At the "International Centre for Sustainable Development", the interplay between technological change and ecological change processes, but also the interaction between technological development and societal change is investigated in different, mostly interdisciplinary approaches. The area of sustainable technologies focuses on technical issues from the energy and mobility sector with the aim of making the research results usable in a transdisciplinary manner in the sense of sustainable regional and international development.

Sustainable transformation of the energy and transport sector

Research in the area of sustainable technologies is concerned with issues relating to the sustainable transformation of the energy and transport sectors. The coupling of both sectors requires technical innovations that allow electricity-based provision of energy for the transport sector through adequate storage technologies (batteries, hydrogen, synthetic fuels) for sector coupling. The sustainable transformation of both sectors requires a deeper understanding of dynamic system behaviour of generation, storage and consumption as well as a holistic understanding of the associated impacts on the environment and society.

The following questions are in focus:

  • What influence do environmental factors such as weather, air pollution and climate have on renewable energy supply?
  • What influence do new technologies in the energy and transport sectors have on climate and environment?
  • How do institutional change processes and technological developments influence each other?
     

What influence do environmental factors have on regenerative energy supply?

Part of the research at IZNE deals with the influence of weather, air pollution and climate on solar energy supply. The aim of the research is to improve the prediction of solar energy supply under different weather and climate conditions. Some of the activities focus on the role of aerosols and dust, other work on the influence of inhomogeneous cloud cover. Energy meteorology provides an important basis for the development of intelligent planning and control tools and thus for the digitalisation of the energy transition by improving the predictions of solar energy production and the understanding of the weather-related dynamics of grids with a high proportion of solar power and integrated storage. Here you can read more about sustainable energy systems with a focus on energy meteorology and energy storage.
 

What influence do new technologies in the energy and transport sector have on the climate and the environment?

The sustainable transformation of the energy and transport infrastructure requires solutions that are actually climate-friendly and low in emissions. The development and investigation of alternative concepts as well as the evaluation of the associated environmental impacts is part of the research at IZNE. Here, the method of life cycle assessment is used for ecological evaluation and optimisation. Context-dependent solution approaches for different modes of transport, regions and countries are pursued, whereby the focus is increasingly on questions of sector coupling with the help of power-to-X technologies. Here you can read more about sustainable mobility.
 

How do institutional change processes and technological developments influence each other?

The sustainable transformation of energy and transport systems requires a profound understanding of the interaction between society and technosphere. For research at the IZNE, this means that engineering and social sciences jointly investigate how technical changes in energy supply affect societal structures and, vice versa, what influence societal and institutional changes have on the development and diffusion of technologies. Here, results of development research are applied to the energy sector in order to better understand the dynamics of the innovation and transformation processes necessary for sustainable development. Here you can read more about our project Enershelf - Energy supply for healthcare in ghana.

 

Teaching

In 2011, UNESCO decided to reorient global engineering education towards sustainability. The previous initiative was supported by many internationally active technology groups.

The background to this demand is the realisation that engineers can contribute a great deal to improving people's lives. However, by no means everything that is technically possible, not everything that seems sensible from our current point of view, is also useful in other parts of our planet or a good thing in the long term.

Against this background, the EMT department has introduced the "Blaue Schiene" in the Bachelor's degree programmes in mechanical and electrical engineering. These are modules in which aspects of sustainability are taught. In each semester, at least one lecture, seminar or project is offered in which students learn about the basics of sustainable technology. In addition, the department has been offering the study programme "Sustainable Engineering" since WS 2017/18. The basic question of this degree programme is: How can engineers ensure that technological boundaries shift within the framework of economic, ecological and social limits in order to secure the right to equal living conditions for all people in the future. From summer semester 2021, the programme will be supplemented by a Master's degree course in "Sustainable Engineering Sciences", which is dedicated in particular to sustainable system development in the context of sector coupling of the energy and transport sectors.

The IZNE (Prof. Stefanie Meilinger) was involved in the development of both degree programmes and offers several courses on issues of sustainable technology design. The content is not oriented to engineering disciplines, but to the technological challenges and tasks as they arise from the goals of sustainable development. The teaching of engineering fundamentals is supplemented by interdisciplinary, sustainability-oriented content that highlights the ecological, social and economic consequences of technological solutions.